Ruth Kotinsky on adult education and lifelong learning

Picture:  National Archives and Records Administration. WPA Adult Education (New Deal). Believed to be in the public domain (sourced from Wikimedia).Ruth Kotinsky on adult education and lifelong learning. Ruth Kotinsky made a number of important contributions to educational thought in the United States. Of particular interest was her exploration of adult education as an aspect of the social scene.

Ruth Kotinsky (1903-1955) holds a special, but often overlooked, place in the development of thinking around adult education and lifelong learning in the United States. She also made a significant contribution to secondary and early education. Norma Nerstrom (1999) has summed up her contribution as follows:

[Ruth Kotinsky] was highly creative and possessed the rare quality of applying the findings of others to achieve a creation that was distinctly her own. She postulated that education was a continuous process from cradle to grave and her work reflected this belief. Ruth Kotinsky took pleasure in the written word and used it as a vehicle to share the learning experiences of her vastly interesting career. She recognized a strong connection between education and mental health, which has been documented in much of her work.

Kotinsky undertook her undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin (1919-1923) and later went on to register for, and complete a PhD at Teacher’s College, University of Columbia (William Kirkpatrick was her mentor and professor). Her path-breaking book Adult Education and the Social Scene (1933) was largely based on her dissertation.

After leaving Wisconsin, Ruth Kotinsky worked for the National YMCA in New York (where she was to live for much of her life). One of the fruits of this time was Adventures in Adult Education (which she compiled and edited). She also edited The Educational Council Bulletin (concerned with the professional development of group leaders and workers). Later Ruth Kotinsky went on to work at the National Council of Parent Education (editing the journal Parent Education) and then with Commission on the Secondary School Curriculum where she contributed to a number of important works (see, for example, Thayer et. al. 1939). She was also to gain recognition as a contributor to The 1950 White House Conference on Children and Youth.

Ruth Kontinsky was also to forge a fruitful relationship with Helen Leland Witmer resulting in two important publications: Personality in the Making (1952) and Community Programs for Mental Health (1955). The American Association of Adult Education was also to recognize her particular expertise and hired her as a representation, research director and editor where she stayed until 1955 when she joined the Family Services Association of America as research director. She died later that year (November 27) as a result of a road traffic accident (she was a passenger in a vehicle).

The emerging vision of adult education as a field of practice and as a field of study found voice in the writings not only of Lindeman, but others including Ruth Kotinsky for whom the workplace was a critical site for addressing social problems.

Rosenblum, reflecting on the significance of Kotinsky for contemporary adult educators, notes that the role of adult education in Adult Education and the Social Scene (1933) was to identify social problems and deal with them in such ways as to make the participants intelligent and responsible planners, rather than merely drifters and sufferers, or ruthless schemers for personal advantage. “(Kotinsky’s) major thesis was that education which does not look toward control of experience through action is pointless” (Rosenblum 1987, p. 116).

Bibliography and further reading

Kotinsky, Ruth (1933) Adult Education and The Social Scene. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co.

Kotinsky, Ruth (1940) Adult Education Councils. New York: American Association for Adult Education.

Kotinsky, Ruth (1941) Elementary Education of Adults, A Critical Interpretation, New York : American Association of Adult Education.

Kotinsky, Ruth and Witmer, Helen L. (1955) Community Programs for Mental Health Theory, Practice, Evaluation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (Published for the Commonwealth Fund).

Kotinsky, Ruth , Sonquist David E., Soares, Theodore G. and Huff, LeRoy (1930) ‘Some wider functions of adult education’, Religious Education 25(7).

Nerstrom, Norma (1999) ‘Ruth Kotinsky’, ACE Resources, National-Louis University, Accessed: February 6, 2005.

Rosenblum, Sandra. Book review in “1926-1986: A Retrospective Look at Selected Adult Education Literature,” edited by Ralph Brockett. Adult Education Quarterly. 37, no. 2 (Winter 1987): 114-121.

Thayer, V. T., Zachry, Caroline B. and Kotinsky, Ruth (1939) Reorganizing Secondary Education. Prepared for the Commission On Secondary School Curriculum, New York ; London : Appleton-Century.

Whipple, C. A.and Kotinsky, Ruth (1942) Practical methods in adult education, New York: Bureau of Adult Education, New York State Education Department.

Witmer, Helen L. and Kotinsky, Ruth (eds.) (1952) Personality in the Making: The Fact Finding Report of the Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth. New York: Harper & Row.

Witmer, Helen L. and Kotinsky, Ruth (eds.) (1956) New perspectives for research on juvenile delinquency : a report of a conference on the relevance and interrelations of certain concepts from sociology and psychiatry for delinquency, held May 6 and 7, 1955, Washington : U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Social Security Administration, Children’s Bureau.

How to cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2005) ‘Ruth Kotinsky on adult education and lifelong learning’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [ Retrieved: insert date].

Acknowledgement: Picture:  National Archives and Records Administration. WPA Adult Education (New Deal). Believed to be in the public domain (sourced from Wikimedia).

© Mark K. Smith 2007

Last Updated on January 28, 2013 by